Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
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Other Types of Boat

Ferries, College Barges, Packet boats, Inspection Boats, Gun Punt etc.


College barges

These craft, dating back nearly two centries, were used by the Oxford colleges, and were permanently moored along the banks of the Thames. They are large, flat. bottomed vessels, approached by gangways; some had attached floats or landing stages on the river side. They had a high, flat stern and poop, similar to the popular concept of a galleon, and an extensive upper deck used as a promenade or grandstand, with not a mast but a flagpole well forward. Traditionally they were painted in light colours with gilded scrollwork. They have now been replaced by modern boathouses, but some survive and have been, or are being, restored. River Thames: Folly Bridge College Barge - August 1969
River Thames: Folly Bridge College Barge - August 1969

Duck punt

Used for the once fashionable sport of punt-gunning or wildfowling, the duck punt or gun punt was a type of shallow flat-bottomed craft pointed at each end and covered over at bow and stern. It was used in the marshes, estuaries and rivers of the fens and the Wash, and was usually propelled by a paddle but could also step a mast for sailing. The fore part of the gun punt, shaped something like an Eskimo kayak, supported the long barrel of a muzzle-loading cannon used for shooting waterfowl including geese, teal and shellduck. The single occupant was the gunner who fired at flocks of game birds, a single shot in a day might kill as many as fifty birds. The craft, however, was difficult to control and easy to capsize, its navigation fraught with dangers and discomforts. A good example of the use of a Gun Punt can be seen in the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds.


Ferry

Ferries are used across rivers and estuaries, usually where there were no bridges, to avoid considerable detours. Where rivers are very wide and navigated by large sea-going ships making their way to inland docks it is often costly to build bridges with high enough clearance, so ferries provided the necessary link for both passengers and vehicles. The earliest ferryies were probably dugouts and flat-bottomed punts. Later more elegant skiffs and wherris were used for passengers. The large square-ended type is still used for vehicles in certain places, attached to landing stages on either side of the waterway by ropes or chains which ure also used to propel the craft by hand, or with some form of power. Smaller passenger ferries could be hauled across by the operator pulling on a rope, about shoulder level, hand over hand. Chain ferries were guided by single or double chains on the bed of the river wound through drums on either side of the craft. Some of these were originally steam-powered and later converted to diesel power. Horse ferries were widely used on some rivers to ferry horse traffic. . On broad rivers or estuaries, such as the Mersey at Liverpool, the Thames at Gravesend and the Dart at Kingswear, there were quite large steamers, some of which still function, although they are now powered by diesel or the service has ceased to function. Other outstanding craft in this category are the Woolwich free ferries, able to take vehicles on the upper decks and passengers in a lower saloon. The three present ferries each carry up to one thousand passengers and two hundred vehicles on a five-minute crossing. They replace four earlier steamers, with tall funnels placed at either end of the vehicle deck.Ferries formerly worked a passenger and vehicle service across the Severn and the Humber until the services were replaced by the Humber and Severn Bridges respectively. Warwickshire: Stratford-upon-Avon Ferry across the Avon - 22 June 1995
Warwickshire: Stratford-upon-Avon Ferry across the Avon - 22 June 1995

Gun punt

Used for the once fashionable sport of punt-gunning or wildfowling, the duck punt or gun punt was a type of shallow flat-bottomed craft pointed at each end and covered over at bow and stern. It was used in the marshes, estuaries and rivers of the fens and the Wash, and was usually propelled by a paddle but could also step a mast for sailing. The fore part of the gun punt, shaped something like an Eskimo kayak, supported the long barrel of a muzzle-loading cannon used for shooting waterfowl including geese, teal and shellduck. The single occupant was the gunner who fired at flocks of game birds, a single shot in a day might kill as many as fifty birds. The craft, however, was difficult to control and easy to capsize, its navigation fraught with dangers and discomforts. A good example of the use of a Gun Punt can be seen in the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds.


Inspection boat or launch

Although these were used by the engineering staff on both rivers and canals for the purpose of navigation inspection, once a year, they were at the disposal of the directors of the company for an annual tour of inspection. They were usually quite elaborate affairs, with teak or mahogany and polished silver, with cut glass or finely etched windows. The annual inspection was often an occasion for wining and dining and a show of grandeur. The earliest inspection craft were horse-drawn, the horses ridden by postilions in livery. Later they were converted to steam power or purpose-built steamers were built. A rare examle of an inspection boat, built for the Grand Union Canal Company during the late 1920s, had a petrol engine. One well known inspection boat, still in exsistence, is The Lady Hatherton, used from the late 1890s until the 1930s by directors of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company . It had elaborate interior fittings but was later given a new, almost identical hull and converted into a pleasure yacht. Today many narrowboats in the Inspection Launch style are being built for pleasure cruising.


Packet boat

These passenger boats offered regular services between towns and villages that may well have been swifter, safer and more comfortable than travelling over the primative roads in heavy stage-wagons.They appearied on navigations almost from the start of the canal age. The fastest and packet boats were drawn by teams of cantering or galloping horses ridden by postilions and changed at various intervals along the towing paths. These fly boats given the status of priority traffic by the canal companies and had right of way over all other trafffic, especially at locks and bridgeholes. On the Bridgewater Canal some packet boats had a curved blade fitted at the bow to cut through the towing ropes of other craft unable or unwilling to let the packet boat overtake. Many packet boats had facilities for eating and sleeping, with refreshments at all hours of the day. Packets between Bradford-on-Avon and Bath even boasted a string band. Packet boats continued in some areas long after the coming of the railways as the pleasures of viewing the scenery and the smoothness of the travel sometimes outwieghed the need to take the quickest or shortest route. Many were finally powered by steam and travelled on both canals and rivers. At one time there were regular steam-packet services between Leeds and Goole and between Lincoln and Boston. On the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal steam packet boats continued until well into the twentieth century, providing the equivalent to a country bus service in an area devoid of both main roads and railways, except at canal termini. An early packet boat, the Lord Dundas, constructed by Fairbairn and Lillie of Manchester, operated on the Forth and Clyde Canal from the early 1830s. In some ways it resembled the ill-fated tug Charlotte Dundas, banned from the same waterway for causing too much wash and eroding the banks. By the 1830s, however, there had been a reinvestigation into the hazards of excessive wash and the Forth and Clyde directors allowe the operation of the craft. The Lord Dundas had a paddle-wheel in the centre of the deck and, until the introduction of driving screws, centre and stern paddles were preferred to side paddles, especially on narrow and still-water navigations. The 10 foot paddle of the Lord Dundas was driven by a 10-horsepower engine, almost amidships. There were two passenger saloons or compartments, able to carry 150 passengers. Packet boats on London's Regent's Canal in were used throughout the nineteenth century.


Pontoon

Usually flat-bottomed and square or swim-ended these craft were used both as a ferry and to support a floating bridge, especially for military purposes. Pontoons have a long history, they were described by Julius Caesar and Aulus Gellius. It was generally considered a portable boat but needed to be conveyed on a truck or carriage drawn by draught animals. Pontoons were used in both world wars, especially by the Royal Engineers in the construction of temporary bridges, and later inspired the development of the Mulberry harbour.


Scow

Sometimes known as a pontoon, the scow is a flat-bottomed punt and one of the earliest craft used for ferrying.


Starvationer

The earliest type of canal craft in England may have been the cigar-shaped starvationer which worked several miles underground, in the flooded galleries of the Duke of Bridgewater's coal mines at Worsley near Manchester. They used inclined planes for changes of level, and were operated by men wearing special harness, which could be hooked to rings projecting from the tunnel walls, and walking the boat as though on a treadmill. In other parts the boats could be legged by kicking against the roof or side walls with metal-shod boots. These boats were of oval shape and double-ended, about 20 feet long.


 

Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Home Introduction Waterways List Waterways Map Links Books DVD Articles Photo Gallery
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